Back in December, in the midst of his breakout stretch as one of the NBA’s best sixth men, Reggie Jackson told reporters of his desire to eventually be a starter.
“Every day I woke up at 5 in the morning in high school, getting shots up and I never said I wanted to be a bench player,” Jackson said after a shootaround in Denver. “I always woke up to be the greatest.”
During his exit interview on Sunday, he reiterated: “I’d like to be a starter. I’m not going to lie.”
And for four games to end this latest Thunder postseason run, Jackson got his wish. He’d started in the past, replacing Russell Westbrook for all 45 of the games the All-Star missed.
But this time was different. This time the entire roster was healthy. This time Jackson was in the starting lineup alongside the superstars and, for the first time, looked like a viable option to remain in it for the foreseeable future.
But following the series loss to San Antonio, coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder seemed non-committal, even a bit lukewarm on the thought.
“Don’t know,” Brooks said. “It’s so early.”
“I’m not sure, man,” Westbrook said of that starting backcourt. “Obviously we made those changes based on the series and based on different things throughout the playoffs. That’s something I’m not sure about.”
For the team, it might be better to keep Jackson coming off the bench. Get him 30 minutes a night, give the second-unit a primary playmaker and then keep him out there with the starters in crunch time.
But that’s looking more and more like a harder sell to Jackson.
“It’s tough,” Jackson said of a sixth man role. “I’m really a control freak. I like to be in control. That’s kind of how I am. That’s how point guards tend to be. Kind of quirky. I like to feel in control, kind of running the show.”
But the Thunder already has a guy running the show. Name of Russell Westbrook, arguably the best point guard in the league.
“That’s what everybody keeps saying,” Jackson quipped.
An understandable mindset for a guy who has shown enough ability to be considered a solid NBA starter. But some surprising comments, considering the organization he plays for and the contract situation he’s currently up against.
This offseason, Jackson is eligible for an extension for the first time.
“Hopefully we’ll sit down and figure things out,” Jackson said.
It’s the James Harden summer, as some could infamously recall, the offseason in which he was shipped from OKC because he couldn’t see eye-to-eye with the organization about an extension.
But despite the somewhat similar on-court situations — Jackson is now filling Harden’s bench role – the business side of things is drastically different.
As a restricted free agent following next season, Jackson will have plenty of potential suitors. But he won’t command near a max deal, which Harden got in Houston. So he falls a lot closer to the Thunder’s price range.
Plus, this time around, OKC will be more financially flexible. When Jackson’s extension would take effect, Kendrick Perkins’ $9 million deal will be coming off the books, Serge Ibaka’s contract will remain flat and, as has been reported recently, the NBA’s luxury tax is expected to be elevated.
So Jackson can either sign an extension with the Thunder or ink an offer sheet elsewhere next offseason. But if he did, the Thunder would likely match. And he’d remain in OKC, where it remains highly possible he’s still coming off the bench.
He says he wants to be here. But he also says he wants to be a starter. Those two might not go hand in hand.